15.06.2020

Decontamination of the city of Pripyat

Decontamination of the city of Pripyat

Photo and video

After the accident in 1986, the entire population of Pripyat was evacuated, and the city received the status of resettled.  Residents were told that after the decontamination of the city and surrounding territories, they would be able to return home again, but I think that everything was already known in May 1986 - there will never be no life in Pripyat.  This is evidenced by the fact that in May 1986 it was decided to build a new city for the workers of the power plant called Slavutich in a clean zone at a distance of 50 km from Chernobyl.  Many former residents of Pripyat moved to Slavutich in 1987.
With all this, it was decided to decontaminate Pripyat.  Initially, the city was supposed to be used as a shift camp for liquidators for some time and also it was decided to use the city infrastructure to host various research projects and organizations - which, in fact, was carried out in one form or another until about the beginning of the 2000s.


At the moment, many liquidators and many of those who were in some way connected with Exclusion Zone, shared the opinion that decontamination of Pripyat was an absolutely unnecessary and useless event.  One can agree with this - after all, the city has not become suitable for a normal life, and the amount of effort, money and human health that has been spent on decontamination is certainly not worth the opportunity to work in the Zone for several research projects.


The only advantage of decontamination can be the fact that such work allowed to somewhat reduce the spread of radioactive materials outside the Zone because during decontamination, work was also carried out to wash of radioactive dust from the buildings and to transport things to burial grounds.  If these were not done, things would be taken away by looters.  Well, and one more relative “plus” - without decontamination work, current tours to Pripyat would have been impossible.


To begin with, we estimate the scale of work.  Pripyat was very small and compact - 5 micro-districts, each of which represented a large quarter.  The whole city is similar in size to one district of a city like Minsk or Kiev.  Nevertheless, the decontamination works were quite voluminous, because it was necessary to remove the radioactive soil - even in such a small area that would be hundreds of tons.


To some extent, Pripyat was lucky - in the days of the accident, the wind blew in such way that the main radioactive masses "bent" the city from two sides, forming two lines of high radiation pollution, later called the Northern and Western traces.  Even with this in mind, the exposure background in Pripyat by the evening of April 26 was on average 1 Roentgen per hour (approximately 70-100 thousand times higher than normal);  you can imagine what the background level would be like in Pripyat if the masses went right to the city.


Almost immediately after the accident, the city acquired the "special status" of the closed settlement.  In order to get to Pripyat, one had to have a special pass; they were of different access - "Pass to Chernobyl", "Pass to Pripyat", "Pass everywhere."  Documents were checked at the entrance to the city; getting into Pripyat to a random person at that time was absolutely unrealistic.


 All decontamination activities can be divided into two main types of work - washing buildings from traces of radioactive dust and cleaning the ground - all the main works fall under these two categories, plus we also add a separate item for the removal of things to burial sites.


 Buildings were washed with the help of fire engines, on which water jets were installed creating the necessary pressure.


 Regarding what they used to wash off dust, there are different versions.  Someone writes that it was simple water, and someone says that it was a special polymer composition, which when dried turned into a kind of analogue of a membrane tied dust and which could then be collected as garbage.


Most likely, both versions are possible - in some places they could use special composition, and in some - water.  In general, neither concrete nor brick is "activated" by radiation (unlike metal) and washed off quite easily - you just need to remove all dust and radioactive particles.


 In addition to fire trucks, at least one BelAZ was also used to clean the buildings, converted into a watering machine.  Initially, BelAZ was planned to be used for washing tall sixteen-story buildings, but the water compressor was too strong - according to eyewitnesses, a stream of water from BelAZ easily knocked out windows in houses.  Subsequently, it was used for dust suppression of the city streets.


Another part of the work (much larger) involved the removal of radioactive soil and was carried out after cleaning the buildings.  The soil was collected everywhere in different ways.  Somewhere graders were used to cut off the topsoil, but basically everything was done manually.
 We should also talk about cleaning apartments from things and spoiled products.


 To prevent looting in the city, a couple of weeks after the accident, it was surrounded by a fence with barbed wire with an alarm.  All houses were also placed under an alarm, which was reduced to a remote control in the city police station.  The alarm itself was installed on the entrance door, but was not perfect and primitive.  The marauders calmly walked around the sensors with magnets or didn’t particularly hang around and knocked out a window wherever they were on the ground floor, after they entered the buildins and searched the apartments for valuables.  Since the city of Pripyat was not a sufficiently poor city, looters had something to profit from.  Of course, they were discovered and detained, but there wasn’t much to sew on.


 Until the 1990s, there was no article in the criminal code for the movement of radioactive material.  Therefore, after looters were caught, they were released previously, having seized the stolen things and drawing up an administrative protocol.  Due to the fact that there were a lot of contaminated things, they were taken out of houses, loaded into trailers and bodies, and taken to burial grounds.  Only a few bulky items remain in the houses, such as “walls” and sofas.


Despite the fact that on April 27 it was told to close windows to avoid getting radioactive dust inside, it was there. Somewhere it from the shoes and closes used on April 26, or opened windows or simply dust penetrated through the vents. Not all household items were destroyed. For example, part of the furniture which can be decontaminated (tables, stools, chairs, tables, etc.) were given for the needs of the liquidators. To this day, in the dormitories of Chernobyl you can find furniture of Pripyat.


When it became clear that the evacuation will last much longer than expected from the beginning, new tasks appeared. In the first place — removal and disposal of friable (was afraid the explosive breeding of rodents and spacing of their disease), and perishable products from the warehouses and shops.


It was necessary to clean the garbage disposal from food residue. It was terribly unpleasant work: many people threw away cooked food prepared for the may holidays. One can only imagine what was happening in the chutes in five to seven days of hot weather.


From the first days after the accident people began breaking into the city. Everyone had their important and urgent matters: someone left the documents, money or bonds for large sums, someone had to pick up necessities. People took cars, paid a lot of money, came to Pripyat and of course, went to the police Department to get official permission, otherwise it was possible to "become" marauders. There was no strict rules and this led to unnecessary "dust spread", especially as the flow of people was constantly increasing. Only during the first 20 days of June, the city was visited by 394 persons, at least, as registered in the Pripyat city police Department.


Things, the level of contamination which exceed 0.1 mR/hour — level, coordinated with the Ministry of health of the USSR were forbidden to be taken out of town. For monitoring compliance with the latest conditions at the checkpoint "Dibrova" there was a special item of radiation control. There, at the CP, they issued personal protective equipment and opened small dining room. The CP was a place to change "dirty" buses that arrived from Pripyat and Vice versa. In the village of Stably located near Pollesky town, they arranged a service for issuing permits to the city, dispatcher-to-order machines and train containers at the station Ovruch. From July 25 people went to the city, and that is how it went: July 25 - 69 people, 26- 200, 27 - 240, 30 - 408, 31 - 701 further, the number ranged from three hundred to six hundred a day.


Along with the removal of things, we solved another problem - the disposal of products from refrigerators.  Electricity was cut off long ago, and since the accident happened before the holidays, all refrigerators were clogged with groceries.  The question was not as simple as it seems at first glance.  If you remove this decomposed mass, no way to wash your hands - the water is turned off, then who will collect it all around the city.  Liquidators were deciding for a long time, until the simplest solution came to mind - to leave all this rot in the refrigerators, and use them as airtight containers.  The soldiers who decontaminated the city threw refrigerators directly from the windows onto the trucks, after which they also went to the burial ground, like other contaminated things.


 The system of visiting the city worked until October 25, until the city went under complete decontamination with soil removal, and therefore the government commission decided to stop this process.